Lara Johnson-Wheeler: The collection is titled, 'Regenerating the Reef'. Can you explain the intentions behind this?
Deborah Milner: I was inspired to make a collection based around the coral reef after a visit to the NHM Coral Reefs exhibition a couple of years ago. First the geometric sculptural beauty of the dead coral specimens and then the incredible otherworldliness of the living coral in the tank at the end of the exhibition - the colours details and movement were awe inspiring. Apparently it was the first time that coral had been bred in captivity. Just those words intrigued me as one doesn't really think of coral as being an animal. Having read how something like 80% of coral populations were lost in the last year, I wanted to make a meaningful gesture towards conservation rather than just be inspired so we are donating 10% of Sales to the Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program. (MAR was suggested by Celine Cousteau as being a the right choice for our donation)
LJW: What does it mean to you to be showing this collection at SHOWstudio?
DM: This is a very special opportunity. I have known Nick and Charlotte for many years and so much enjoyed taking part in the SHOWstudio panels so it feels like home and, of course, SHOWstudio has a very specific cool vibe so it's wonderful to be launching my new collection from here.
LJW: What is your process when it comes to designing?
DM: Initially visual research, although I do read a lot and sometimes it's just a word or sentence which can spark a whole new direction. In the film 'Miles Ahead' Miles Davis talks about 'improvisation, it's all about improvisation' which I kept in the back of my mind and tried not to be too rigid. Then fabric experimenting which encompassed all the trial and error with the sustainable fabrics and paper shapes as cutting prototypes The challenge is to try and evoke the spirit or gesture of the initial inspiration in the final pieces and make them appear effortless.
LJW: You are known for your close relationships with clients you design bespoke garments for. Was the process of designing this collection different without a specific customer in mind?
DM: Well, when you work with a client you have a clear brief and someone in effect making the final decisions. Part of me just wanted to fly off in a completely avant-garde direction while the other side wanted to distil everything down to the simplicity of the tailoring pieces. Trying to make both sides bond together was probably the most difficult aspect.
LJW: Following on a little from my previous question, is there a woman who embodies your brand and ethos?
DM: That's difficult as I am personally quite a eclectic and love the mix of different people positions and attitudes. That said, someone like Celine Cousteau who collaborated on this project is the perfect ambassador - beautiful, intelligent and working towards a better future.
LJW: The music and the lighting at the presentation was clearly key to the overall aesthetic. Tell me a little about this.
DM: Since we were looking at 'Regenerating the Reef' as a positive response to the dire state of reefs worldwide, the clothes to appear to be underwater - the monochrome tailored pieces representing the dead coral slowly coming to life in the embroidered and final pieces. Coral spawns just once a year at full moon - lighting seemed the most evocative way to represent this magical event. Having worked with Moritz Waldermeyer on an outfit for Daphne [Guinness] the previous year, I knew his sensitive approach would bring this to life.
LJW: Thank you Deborah, and congratulations on the beautiful collection!